Thursday, January 11, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Va’era 5778–Careful The Words You Boast

My mother Goldie (z”l) passed away this past August at the age of 92. She would have been 93 in another 8 days from today had she lived. Years ago, I wrote a musing for this parasha based around an old technique the Mom used to get me and my sister to eat and finish our food. In her honor, here’s the link to the most recent version of it, from 2015:

and now, on to a new story for this Shabbat Va’era.

The haftarah for parashat Va’era is from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21. It includes these words in verses 29:3-9

דַּבֵּ֨ר וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר ׀ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה הִנְנִ֤י עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ פַּרְעֹ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרַ֔יִם הַתַּנִּים֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל הָרֹבֵ֖ץ בְּת֣וֹךְ יְאֹרָ֑יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמַ֛ר לִ֥י יְאֹרִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽנִי׃

Speak these words: Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to deal with you, O Pharaoh king of Egypt, Mighty monster, sprawling in your channels, Who said, My Nile is my own; I made it for myself.

וְנָתַתִּ֤י חחיים [חַחִים֙] בִּלְחָיֶ֔יךָ וְהִדְבַּקְתִּ֥י דְגַת־יְאֹרֶ֖יךָ בְּקַשְׂקְשֹׂתֶ֑יךָ וְהַעֲלִיתִ֙יךָ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ יְאֹרֶ֔יךָ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־דְּגַ֣ת יְאֹרֶ֔יךָ בְּקַשְׂקְשֹׂתֶ֖יךָ תִּדְבָּֽק׃

I will put hooks in your jaws, And make the fish of your channels Cling to your scales; I will haul you up from your channels, With all the fish of your channels Clinging to your scales.

וּנְטַשְׁתִּ֣יךָ הַמִּדְבָּ֗רָה אוֹתְךָ֙ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־דְּגַ֣ת יְאֹרֶ֔יךָ עַל־פְּנֵ֤י הַשָּׂדֶה֙ תִּפּ֔וֹל לֹ֥א תֵאָסֵ֖ף וְלֹ֣א תִקָּבֵ֑ץ לְחַיַּ֥ת הָאָ֛רֶץ וּלְע֥וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם נְתַתִּ֥יךָ לְאָכְלָֽה׃

And I will fling you into the desert, With all the fish of your channels. You shall be left lying in the open, Ungathered and unburied: I have given you as food To the beasts of the earth And the birds of the sky.

וְיָֽדְעוּ֙ כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֣י מִצְרַ֔יִם כִּ֖י אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה יַ֧עַן הֱיוֹתָ֛ם מִשְׁעֶ֥נֶת קָנֶ֖ה לְבֵ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know That I am the LORD. Because you were a staff of reed To the House of Israel:

בְּתָפְשָׂ֨ם בְּךָ֤ בכפך [בַכַּף֙] תֵּר֔וֹץ וּבָקַעְתָּ֥ לָהֶ֖ם כָּל־כָּתֵ֑ף וּבְהִֽשָּׁעֲנָ֤ם עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ תִּשָּׁבֵ֔ר וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ֥ לָהֶ֖ם כָּל־מָתְנָֽיִם׃ (ס)

When they grasped you with the hand, you would splinter, And wound all their shoulders, And when they leaned on you, you would break, And make all their loins unsteady.

לָכֵ֗ן כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֔ה הִנְנִ֛י מֵבִ֥יא עָלַ֖יִךְ חָ֑רֶב וְהִכְרַתִּ֥י מִמֵּ֖ךְ אָדָ֥ם וּבְהֵמָֽה׃

Assuredly, thus said the Lord GOD: Lo, I will bring a sword against you, and will cut off man and beast from you,

וְהָיְתָ֤ה אֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לִשְׁמָמָ֣ה וְחָרְבָּ֔ה וְיָדְע֖וּ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה יַ֧עַן אָמַ֛ר יְאֹ֥ר לִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עָשִֽׂיתִי׃

so that the land of Egypt shall fall into desolation and ruin. And they shall know that I am the LORD—because he boasted, “The Nile is mine, and I made it.”

I’m going to take these words completely out of their context, and not feel the least bit troubled by that. We have, in our country today, a man serving as President who seems as fond of boasting as the Pharaoh of which Ezekiel was speaking. Only he can do it. I made this happen. I made that happen. I alone. I am making America great again.

These words ring as hollow as Pharaoh’s boasts are made to seem by the ancient prophet. We can only hope and pray that G”d will treat today’s President as Ezekiel was proclaiming that G”d would treat that ancient Pharaoh.

Unfortunately, under these prophecies, Pharaoh would drag his nation and his people down with him. I would not wish that on those ancient Egyptians anymore than I would wish it on our country and our citizens. Yet there may be a price to pay for our having allowed this man to be elected as our President, for even allowing him to be considered for that role, given what we knew. It should be far easier to for us to topple a President than it was for the ancient Egyptians to topple their Pharaoh. Yes, we can blame the system that allowed our current President to be elected, but, ultimately, the system is us, and it is up to us, if it isn’t working right, to fix it. Like it or not, we are, all of us, no matter how strongly we protest, responsible for what has happened to our nation. If we do not fix it, and we do not stop our leaders from the inhuman acts in which they are engaging, then G”d’s disfavor could surely fall upon we the people as much as it does our leaders. (No, I’m no fan or believer in a  G”d who actually operates that way, and I’ll readily admit to my hypocrisy in my actually wishing for G”d to actual act in this manner.)

Pharaoh’s people weren’t able to stop him, surely through less fault than our own, and still G”d punished the masses for the faults of their ruler. As I stated, I don’t like a G”d who behaves like that (and neither did Avraham) and I’m not excusing it. I’m engaging in rhetorical technique, I suppose. Our prophets were masters of the genre, so why should we still not use it?  (Ah, but I hear year cry “our own President uses these techniques to his own advantages and two wrongs do not a right make.”) Well content matters. Hitler may have used rhetorical technique, but so did Gandhi, MLK, JFK, and so many other great leaders. We heard Oprah use it to great effect the other day at the Golden Globe awards.

The meaning and intent behind the rhetoric matters. When the rhetoric is meant to hurt, cause harm, it is an improper use. Our ancient prophets weren’t always so much trying to predict the future as use their predictions as a tool to convince people to behave in a  different manner so that the dire predictions would not come true. If the Pharaoh being addressed by Ezekiel changed his boastful ways, perhaps these things would not befall Egypt.

[We do have to consider the context. Based on the start of this haftarah section, the time period is probably 588 BCE, one year before Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. Ezekiel, or his school, were probably writing these words years later, while they were in exile in Babylon.  The Pharaoh of that time, would have been Apries, of the 26th Dynasty. In 588, Apries actually sent his army to protect Jerusalem from the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar. His forces did not fare well, and basically retreated to avoid a confrontation. As a result, some of Apries troops mutinied. Years later, after Jerusalem fell, Apries sent troops to protect Nubia from the Greeks, and they failed miserably. As a result, he was overthrown and fled Egypt. Some years later, Apries led a Babylonian army in an attempt to conquer Egypt and regain his throne. He was killed in the battle. His overthrower/successor Amasi still saw that Apries received a proper Pharaonic burial. He also married a daughter of Apries to help legitimize his forceful and usurping succession.  It is likely that Ezekiel (or his scribal school) was/were well aware of this history when writing the 28th and 29th chapter of this prophetic book. Perhaps it was Apries very abandonment of the fight to protect Jerusalem from the Babylonians which was the progenitor of this part of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Ezekiel perhaps alludes to historical details about Pharaoh Apries (perhaps boasting his troops could easily protect Jerusalem) that are not elsewhere noted.) Or perhaps Ezekiel was exhorting Apries with his pointed prophecies to insure Egyptian troops stayed to protect Jerusalem, in hopes of saving the city (which presumes this was written before 587 BCE, an unlikely scenario.)  We’ll probably never know. Egypt didn’t fare so badly after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and Babylonian troops failed to restore Apries to his throne. However, Apries sure did.]

Given all this context, perhaps Ezekiel really was just warning the people of Jerusalem not to trust Apries’ troops to save them from the Babylonians. Proof of that understanding is found in 29:16

וְלֹ֣א יִֽהְיֶה־עוֹד֩ לְבֵ֨ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל לְמִבְטָח֙ מַזְכִּ֣יר עָוֺ֔ן בִּפְנוֹתָ֖ם אַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וְיָ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֥י אֲנִ֖י אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִֽה׃ (פ)

Never again shall they be the trust of the House of Israel, recalling its guilt in having turned to them. And they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.

Perhaps Ezekiel had heard about machinations in Egypt, perhaps he had heard unkind and unflattering comments about Pharaoh Apries.

All this context, but I’m not sure how much it matters. The point is that Ezekiel, who devoted six sections of his book to prophecies against Egypt, was calling Pharaoh Apries on the carpet for being boastful. I’m calling our current President on the carpet for the same thing.

In his prophecy, Ezekiel further predicted that Egypt would suffer forty years of ruin, and then G”d would restore it, but:

מִן־הַמַּמְלָכוֹת֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה שְׁפָלָ֔ה וְלֹֽא־תִתְנַשֵּׂ֥א ע֖וֹד עַל־הַגּוֹיִ֑ם וְהִ֨מְעַטְתִּ֔ים לְבִלְתִּ֖י רְד֥וֹת בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃

It shall be the lowliest of all the kingdoms, and shall not lord it over the nations again. I will reduce the Egyptians, so that they shall have no dominion over the nations.

Are we in danger of becoming the lowliest of nations? I certainly fear that is possible. Already respect for our country has declined worldwide.

A friend posted on Facebook today that his young children walked into the room while he was watching a news channel, and on the crawl below it was mentioning POTUS’ remarks, prompting one of the children to ask “What’s a shithole?”  I know our current POTUS is no fan of musical theater, but not only should he head the words of Ezekiel, but also those of Stephen Sondheim:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn
Children may not obey
But children will listen
Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
"Listen to me"
Children will listen

The children are listening, DJT. They will see, and they will learn. Sadly, due to the things you say and do, our children, our world will all be poorer and the worse off for it.

My country is my own, I made it for myself. If those are your thoughts, POTUS, consider what happened to others as boastful throughout history.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Va'era 5777 - Alternative Facts (Not What You Think - Or Is It?)
Va'era 5776 - Why Tomorrow (Revised 5757/62/66)
Va'era 5775 - Brighton Beach Last Stop! (Revised)
Va'era 5774 - Tomorrow, Again
Va'era 5773 - Let Our People Go/Rendezvousing With Rama
Va'era 5772 - Got It!
Va'era 5771/5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5769 - Substitute
Va'era 5767-again, Crushed Spirits (Miqotzer Ruakh)
Va'era 5766-Why Tomorrow?
Va'era 5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5764-Imperfect Perfection and Perfect Imperfection
Va'era 5763 - Pray for Me
Va'era 5761-Just Not Getting It
Va'era 5762-Early will I Seek You

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Adrian I am always delighted with your writing and persuasion skills!
Re the current president and children watching: I have found as a parent and an educator that this time we live in is an excellent example to share with children that there is a difference between the role and the person that fills the role. Ideally of course, we would want people of respect filling roles of respect, but that is not always the case. In the current situation, the person sitting in that role's chair is entirely unfit for the role. In many other circumstances, the person filling a role may be mostly great and even great at the role, but still has skeletons in their closet and still isn't the picture of a perfect human being, because of course that doesn't actually exist. Which is an important piece of learning for young people: to understand that humans are human and we all make mistakes. The current president just makes them constantly and rather grossly.